New book is about filmmaker Kevin Smith — and his fans

by STEPHEN WHITTY
kevin smith book

The cover of David Gati’s “Kevin Smith: His Films and His Fans.”

The best joke about Silent Bob is who plays him.

Seriously, can you imagine the man who created this character — who embodies him onscreen — being silent for more than a minute?

New Jersey’s Kevin Smith loves to talk, and can do it endlessly, and entertainingly — something that has inspired him to write motor-mouthed characters in movies like “Clerks,” “Chasing Amy” and “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” as well as preside over a multitude of podcasts, post-screening Q-and-As and full-out “An Evening With Kevin Smith” lecture tours.

Which gave California writer David Gati the idea of compiling and editing all those off-the-cuff jokes, insights and anecdotes into a handsome book — interspersed with art and remembrances from some of Smith’s fiercest fans: the fervent admirers whose dedication helped turn “Clerks” into a multipart saga and gave Smith a 30-(very)-odd year career and a lovely Hollywood home.

Not bad for a Jersey boy who had just four months of film school under his belt, and a job at a convenience store.

Gati’s “Kevin Smith: His Films and Fans” (Schiffer, 200pp., $24.99) is in bookstores now, and the author took some time out to chat about how he came up with the idea, how Smith built his multi-platform presence, his next back-to-Jersey movie, and some of the studio’s odder ideas for casting “Chasing Amy.”

KEVIN SMITH

Q: How did you first get interested in Kevin Smith?

A: I actually don’t recall seeing his films when they first came out. I do remember seeing “Chasing Amy,” I guess, which I still love, but I actually caught him pretty late, maybe around 2010. That’s when I started listening to his podcast and that’s what drew me in. I’ve always loved film, but I’d never heard anyone who was that transparent about everything — not just their films, and filmmaking, but their personal lives, their problems. He talked about anything and everything. I think he actually talked more about himself on his podcast than about his movies. So that got me hooked, and I started going backwards and discovering the rest of his movies.

Q: What was the “aha!” moment when you realized there was a book here, and that you had to write it?

A: It sounds simple, but I thought, no one else had done this, why not collect all his stories, you know, from his podcasts and some of the documentaries about him and the movies. I couldn’t figure out why no one else had, and I thought, OK, this is doable. So that was the basic idea; initially, it didn’t have the fans’ perspective. But after I actually wrote the first part I realized, you know, this really doesn’t speak to what I thought was the most interesting side to him, which was how he connected to his audience, and how it connected to him. I realized, I really need to do a re-think and go back and include that, too.

Q: It becomes a unique part of the book. It may be a unique part of his career, really. Other directors have fans who follow their work, but there isn’t really this sort of personal connection.

A: Absolutely. I went to Comic-Con this year and got to watch him in his element, where he’s around the people who love him so much. You can see, he really has this presence. It draws people to him like the Pied Piper.

Q: He’s also, very smartly I think, borrowed some ideas from the comics world he grew up on. The whole idea of the View Askew “universe” and all the places where it lives — the website, the podcasts, the comics, the comic-book store, the movie house — it doesn’t just encourage fandom, it really builds this idea of community.

A: Yeah, I wouldn’t say it was carefully planned out — I don’t think he knew what an early adopter he was with some of these things — but eventually it all started to make sense. He became very aware of how important these things were in, you know, “developing his brand,” so to speak, and building that fan base.

Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes in “Mallrats.”

Q: Does he ever feel trapped by that? I get the feeling he’d be very happy making films his fans want to see, and making just enough money so he can then go on and make another one. But the book also talks about the times when he tried to go beyond that, or the studio pushed him to go beyond that. And that rarely worked out.

A: Right. There’s the story when the studio had done some test screenings of “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” which hadn’t gone great, and they were talking about marketing and Kevin’s like, “What about just focusing on my fans?” And the studio is like, “That’s not enough — we need to go beyond your fans.” And sometimes that’s been the conflict, this outside perspective that “You can be bigger than you are, you can reach a different audience” and Kevin’s like, “But I like my audience.”

Q: A lot of times, it seems, the fights came down to the casting. Miramax wouldn’t even put a picture of Jason Mewes on the poster for “Clerks,” because they thought he’d scare people. And for “Chasing Amy,” instead of Joey Adams, Ben Affleck and Jason Lee, the studio wanted Drew Barrymore, Jon Stewart and David Schwimmer. Which Smith ignored — and saw his budget cut from $3 million to $250,000.

A: Yeah, sometimes it’s been a struggle. Although I think the struggle’s often been more internal. I mean, there were times when Kevin felt he could expand a bit more, you know. And he has gone off occasionally and done other things: TV shows, other people’s scripts, stuff that was supposedly more commercial. But I think he’s realized he has this fanbase, and they are ravenous for his stuff, so why not make films for them?

A poster for Kevin Smith’s 1994 movie “Clerks.”

Q: It’s funny, because he started off at Sundance as this very DIY indie director. And in a way, lately, he’s gone back to that.

A: Yeah, he got known for these sorts of raunchy, stoner comedies and I think that really put him in a box. Which he fought to change, towards the latter part of his career, with movies like “Red State” and “Tusk.” I think he did have his fantasies of being thought of differently, of being in the artistic category of a Spike Lee. He hopes to premiere his next movie at Sundance, by the way. It’s called “The 4:30 Movie” and it’s about growing up as a movie fan in New Jersey.

Q: Although most of the book is from his podcasts and talks, you also interviewed Smith at his house out in California …

A: Yeah, it was great. He was so generous. And it was fun — he’s got tons of art, a lot of it fan art about his movies. He’s bought a lot of it for his own collection.

Q: So you saw him out there, in his adopted home. But have you ever been to Leonardo? Or Red Bank?

A: No, I haven’t, but the way his films portray it … I don’t know, Kevin’s Jersey doesn’t even feel real to me. It feels like some magical place, you know? His films are full of all this nostalgia for what it used to be, back when he grew up. So, you know, that’s the Jersey I’d love to visit. ’90s Jersey.

For more on the book, visit schifferbooks.com/products/kevin-smith.

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